A Look at the L*kers
Yeah, hey. In case you didn't notice, the L*kers are good. Really good. They lose games like Perry Mason loses cases. 50 wins in any season is the mark of a good NBA team. 50 wins in 62 games is the mark of an NBA team that's going to kick your butt. Their 21-8 road record is better than the home record of 20 of the other 29 teams in the league.
One of the main reasons they've accomplished this is that I could write the same rundown of their strengths and execution that I did when we played them two months ago. This is a lesson Portland fans and players are learning the hard way. Consistency matters in this league. Anybody can do anything for a single night. Winners work like clockwork every night.
The L*kers are a high-paced, incredibly efficient offensive machine. They're in the top six in field goals made and attempted, field goal percentage, and free throws made and attempted. The only average offensive stats they carry (there are no bad ones) are three-pointers attempted, made, and percentage plus free throw percentage. (Darn that Lamar Odom!)
The L*kers are scary defensively. They rank 5th in field goal percentage allowed, 6th in three-point percentage allowed, 9th in opponent free throws shot, and 6th in overall defensive efficiency (points given up per 100 possessions). They take more individual responsibility and help less than most teams you'll see which allows their big men to remain dangerous inside, perhaps more than their strict defensive talent would indicate.
The L*kers share the ball. The L*kers do not allow you to.
The L*kers take good care of the ball. The L*kers do not allow you to.
The L*kers block your shots. The L*kers sometimes allow you to block theirs, likely to defray speculation that they are alien robots. (After all, with those otherworldly-ugly faces you might expect speculation to abound. Darn that Lamar Odom!)
The L*kers are very good offensive rebounders. They are average defensive rebounders.
In short, it's pretty hard to find a crack in their armor. If they're going to lose it's probably because they got taken out of their game, got a little selfish, and just started firing shots because they expect them to go in. (Darn that Lamar Odom! And every once in a while that Kobe Bryant!)
Does this mean the Blazers are done tonight? Perish the thought! One thing even a clockwork-veteran team remains vulnerable to is a young, determined team with energy and a never-say-"D"...uhhh.... I mean never-say-"die" attitude. When properly motivated that fits Portland to a "T". And the Blazers always play the L*kers well at home. Somehow the problems that plague them in Staples Center melt away in the friendly confines of the Rose Garden. No doubt energy is easier to come by there.
Keys to the Game
1. Brandon Roy had a poor outing when the Blazers played L.A. on opening night and was injured when these teams met in January. He must have a big night for us to have a chance. Not only do we need the points to counterbalance Kobe, Brandon creating trouble, especially off the dribble, forces the L*kers to scramble more on defense. In past years Kobe has gotten into foul trouble trying to contain Roy, which is definitely to the Blazers' benefit. Even if Bryant stays clean, though, moving their interior defenders and forcing them to rotate takes them out of their defensive game. When it's their leader requiring the help (assuming Bryant guards Roy) it's a double-whammy.
2. Speaking of Kobe...he's averaging 28.0 ppg this year. You know what the L*kers record is when he scores 28 or more? 20-12. Now that's pretty good, but then you have to realize they're 50-12 overall. Granted this stat is partly misleading because in some of those wins he could have scored more than 28 but he was pulled early for the blowout. But the fact remains, the L*kers are not the same team when it's the Kobe Show, no matter how scary he is. Giving Bryant free rein is suicide. But focusing on him exclusively and letting everybody else pop off is no better. Instead somebody has to stay in front of Kobe to at least make him work for tough shots. He'll hit them, but they'll take longer and fewer people will be involved. While Kobe is proving his manhood everybody else needs to lock down. Don't let Gasol and Odom score big. Don't let somebody else dunk or get an open three because you were worried about Kobe's mid-range fade-away. Take your lumps, but take them from one source.
3. The L*kers don't have quite the same interior swagger or depth with Andrew Bynum out of the lineup. That doesn't mean they're easy prey. They win without him. But that does mean the Blazers can push their rebounding advantage. It also means that cutters and drivers will have an easier time getting to the rim. And when they pick up a foul it'll be against either Gasol or Odom, either of which the Blazers would happily see on the bench. The Blazers have to hit a jumper or two to unpack the middle, but for goodness sake if you are able to lay Gasol bare and put pressure on him to stop a drive, do so.
4. The Blazer bench has GOT to come up huge in this game, as the L*ker bench has acquitted itself quite well this year. This is an "all hands on deck" game. You never know who will land the telling blow after the starters soften them up. Outlaw, Fernandez, the point guards, Batum...any of them could be a back-breaker. The door is open here with Bynum's injury removing one bench player and the mid-year Radmanovic trade eliminating another. Our second unit needs to kick its way through that door and wreak havoc.
5. Just play with heart. The crowd will help you. Give them something to respond to.
This week is really going to test Portland's home mojo, with L.A., Dallas, and New Jersey on the schedule. The problem is that after this we head out for a five-game road swing including Atlanta's and Indiana's revenge games plus the Cleveland Cavaliers. We can't afford to drop two at home. Neither can we afford to put all our eggs in the basket of this game and come up dry later. We need a great game to start off the week but we also need to take the win (if it comes) in stride.
Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.